Fortunate are those who find their vocation early in life. Katie McKeiver found hers at the age of three. A precious photo shows her in a tutu, in her best ballet pose, feet in position and a confident look on her very young and determined face.
For close on three decades Katie has been pouring her talent, energy and love of dance into teaching Faversham’s girls (rarely boys) – and now adult women – the joys of ballet, tap, jazz and contemporary dance. ‘Every ounce of me screams I must dance’, she says. Committed to sharing this compulsion with others, she founded her school, Dancemakers, in 1990. It occupied several venues around the town before settling nearly 20 years ago at the Baptist Church Hall in St Mary’s Road.
Although describing herself now as middle-aged, Katie has the quickness, grace, youthfulness and lightness of foot that are characteristic of dancers. ‘Dance’, she says, ‘is in my DNA.’ She grew up in Herne Bay and attended the Hasland School of Dance, which is still going strong, and where she trained under Mrs Hasland. Believing that she lacked the height and stature required for a career as a dancer, Katie always wanted to teach. At 17 she auditioned for residential dancing school and won a place at the Hammond School in Chester for a three-year teacher-training course. She took her teaching exams under the auspices of the Royal Academy of Dance and the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dance.
By her early 20s Katie was a qualified dance teacher. Adventure beckoned. She successfully applied for a teaching post in the northeastern Greek city of Drama, near the Turkish border, and travelled there, speaking no Greek, with her partner, Conon, of Squires Antiques (see Faversham Life post for 16 November 2016). Katie and Conon are childhood sweethearts who met at Canterbury College while doing their O levels; they have now been together for 33 years. After a year in Drama, they travelled to Canada where a brother of Katie’s lives and where she found a job teaching in a competitive school, ie a school that took part in competitions. ‘That’s where I got into choreography, which is my passion.’ They spent two years in Canada. ’We came back really because it was not fair on Conon just to be following me around.’
The result was Dancemakers, where Katie currently takes pupils from two and a half to 18 years old…and up. ‘Just over a year ago I started a big girls’ ballet class’ – six women currently who are middle-aged and upwards, some of them inspired by the impact of Katie’s teaching on their children. ‘They are a joy to teach. Luckily for me they don’t take correction as criticism. They really are quality not quantity.’
For Katie, choreography means ‘being able to be creative rather than just teaching technique.’ ‘Technique is everything’, she says, ‘but musicality is what I most like to watch.’ Katie’s choreographic skills come into play for the annual show, held at the Queen Elizabeth‘s Grammar School, usually in November. In the new year, a showcase, possibly of the senior girls aged 13 – 18, and who include just one boy, is planned for the Arden Theatre, ‘a sweet little theatre. It’s really small so we will have to tailor the show to fit.’
I talked to Katie at the cottage that has been the family home for 17 years. Mission Cottage is a former Mission Hall, surrounded by huge trees and half hidden by the encircling Perry Wood. The original coat hooks for the hall are in what is now Conon’s workshop. The attractive house is built of unknapped flint with brick dressings. Building works uncovered traces of an older building, perhaps originally farmworkers’ cottages, and the removal of a false ceiling has revealed beams and space for a gallery – ‘a lovely place to read a book’. There are beautiful outbuildings providing peace and shelter, judicious use of Farrow & Ball paints (Bone inside and Oval Room outside), and everywhere, inside and out, are columns, urns, old ironwork, tables, pots and ornaments acquired from her travels and local auctions and car boot sales. Moroccan lamps proliferate and old rugs line interior walls.
Katie enjoys teaching children for whom dancing doesn’t come naturally. ‘They’re the children who should dance – they can become less clumsy and more co-ordinated.’ This, she says, is the most rewarding part of her work. However, not content with running Faversham’s longest established dance school, she harbours one more ambition: ‘My goal is to have a small youth dance company in Faversham.’ If anyone can do that, Katie can.
Text: Sarah. Photographs of Katie: Lisa. Other photographs supplied by Dancemakers Kent.